Is reading fiction and storybooks really so bad?

Questions & Answers December 1, 2017

This question comes from a tweet that I received in reaction to a prayer that I posted regarding the use of time and reading fiction. My post included the following quotation:

“Many who profess to be Christians do not more than half believe the word of God. They do not study it earnestly, but waste precious time in reading novels and storybooks. A mere intellectual understanding of the word of God will not be sufficient to influence the habits of the life, for the life is regulated by the condition of the heart.” (“Testimonies on Sabbath School Work,” pages 57, 58).

Q: How do we measure Ellen White’s statement here against the fact that Seventh-day Adventist doctrine depends on the assumption that Jesus had no problem employing pagan-influenced Jewish mythology to make a point in Luke 16:19-31? Likewise, Paul in Acts 17? How were they familiar with these things? — submitted via Twitter from a young adult ministry in the United States

A: Jesus told stories (parables) using the familiar/physical realm to explain the unfamiliar/spiritual realm, as He did with Nicodemus regarding being “born again” (John 3). These stories/comparisons should not be taken literally (as Nicodemus soon realized).

According to “Christ’s Object Lessons,” usually these stories had some connection with the hearers’ experience — a recent event or things from nature that were visible to Him and His hearers when he told the story, such as telling the parable of the sower and the seed while watching an actual sower as he worked. (Read the story online in “Christ’s Object Lessons”)

In the case of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus used Jewish speculations about the afterlife that the people were familiar with. Having grown up Jewish, it would not be surprising if He heard some of the common Jewish myths from people in His community. However, to employ one of these well-known tales is not an endorsement of these speculations (compare Acts 1:6-8) or an encouragement to read Jewish myths such as we find in Intertestamental Jewish literature. This point is emphasized in Titus 1:14: “not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.”

Instead of endorsing fiction, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus emphasizes reading, believing, and living according to what God has said in the Scriptures (“Moses and the prophets,” Luke 16:29-31).

The same can be said regarding Paul’s speech recorded in Acts 17:22-31. He spoke to Greeks using ideas that were familiar to them in order to teach them unfamiliar truths. Paul may have learned Greek mythology and philosophy before his conversion experience. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that after his eloquent Mars Hill discourse, he changed his approach. Ellen White comments:

“Out of the large assembly that had listened to his [Paul’s] eloquent words, only three had been converted to the faith. He then decided that from that time he would maintain the simplicity of the gospel. He was convinced that the learning of the world was powerless to move the hearts of men, but that the gospel was the power of God to salvation” (Review & Herald, Aug. 3, 1911). You may read the entire article, titled “Divine Wisdom,” here.

We should choose our reading material very carefully, as it affects our mind just as much as what we eat affects our body. When deciding what to read, or watch, or listen to, you will be glad if you follow this timeless biblical counsel:

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).